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Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2004 - Continued

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Location: Washington, DC

DEPARTMENTS OF LABOR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, AND EDUCATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2004—CONTINUED

Mr. DAYTON. I sympathize with the predicament the distinguished Senator from Pennsylvania has expressed. He has been a stalwart in support of increased funding for many of these educational efforts over the years, and I note that his independence and integrity have resulted in his being cited by yet another prominent publication today.

If those qualities of an independent mind, intelligence, experience, and real compassion for people are considered to be detriments, then it is a sad and unfortunate day for the Senate. I think the Senator's record shows clearly to the contrary.

Mr. SPECTER. If the Senator would yield for a question.

Mr. DAYTON. I would be happy to yield.

Mr. SPECTER. I ask him what publication he is referring to. Independence has its price, and I am prepared to pay it.
I thank the Chair.

Mr. DAYTON. The Senator's distinguished record speaks for itself.

I rise on a matter related to what the Senator just described, the quandary regarding funding for education programs.
Yesterday, for the fourth time, I attempted to obtain 40 percent of Federal funds for special education to fulfill a promise that was made by the Federal Government to States and school districts 27 years ago, which today, and if we pass the appropriation measure that is before us, would be less than half of that 40 percent share. Every one of my colleagues in the Republican caucus voted against this amendment, evidencing that special education funding in the scheme of everything else is simply not a high enough priority.

At that time, yesterday, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee made some observations that I still find rather astounding, particularly as it relates to the actual experience of educators in my State of Minnesota.
According to the senior Senator from New Hampshire, it seems we are putting so much Federal money into the education programs—in fact, to quote the Senator, so much so fast under President Bush and the Republican Senate that we now have a situation where a large percentage of the dollars which we have already appropriated cannot be spent and have not been spent.

Over $9 billion were cited that are supposedly sitting in some vault somewhere over at the Department of Education, title I funding, that was appropriated over the last 2 or 3 years evidently that the States have not drawn down to spend.

We were told before that funding for other areas of education had increased so rapidly that those dollars could not be utilized. We were told by the Senator about 2 months ago that there are so many Head Start slots available that some of those are unfilled because there is more availability than parents desiring to put their children into Head Start.

That comes as quite a surprise to parents and educators and Head Start service providers in Minnesota where there has been known to be a serious shortage of funding for those who are eligible and would like to utilize that program for years. It would come as a surprise to the school board members in school districts all over Minnesota that there is unused money in Washington for education. Our State is experiencing a shortage of some $250 to $300 million in education funding resulting in school districts across the State having to make drastic cuts in funding for public education, cutting teacher positions, cutting curriculum offerings, cutting supportive services.

I wrote this morning to the Secretary of Education to ask him exactly the circumstances resulting in this $9.2 billion of unexpended Federal funds and to ask for his recommendation on what can be done to make these funds available to schools and school districts throughout the country where the funds, I can guarantee, would be well used today, tomorrow, or the day after so we do not have a situation where we have supposedly $9 billion of Federal funds lying around waiting for some school or school board to identify this opportunity to provide the educational services that schoolchildren in
Minnesota are being denied today because of a critical shortage of funding.

We also offered yesterday amendments to increase funding in this bill before Senators were lambasted for our fiscal irresponsibility. We were told again by the chairman of the HELP committee that we have finally set up in the Senate this year a budget for ourselves and we have renewed the concept of fiscal discipline through a budget after having been abandoned for a year under prior leadership of the Senate. Even though we have a budget, we should, we are being told, ignore it and fund all these additional programs for education.

Yes, I did seek yesterday to increase funding for special education by $11 billion next year. That is a lot of money. But it is money fulfilling broken promises of over a quarter of a century. It was lambasted for its fiscal excess.

Yesterday the manager of the bill noted there were no Senators offering amendments. It seems one of the reasons was that quite a number of Senators were at the White House literally at the same time I was offering my amendment. About the same time the critics were accusing my amendment and other amendments being offered for being fiscally reckless, Members were being notified by the President that he would seek another $60 billion or $80 billion—according to estimates I have seen, but it will actually be $100 billion—additional spending for the war effort in Iraq over the next fiscal year in addition to the $87 billion we approved earlier this year for additional funding for that effort, which I supported. And I will support, I expect, the request by the President for this continuing effort. Once we are in a war situation, as we are, we cannot conduct a war under budget. We have to conduct a war to win, to secure that victory, as the administration is trying now to do.

It struck me as an odd juxtaposition of priorities, particularly given the Republican assistant leader spoke yesterday and said we were very clear that what the President wants he is going to get in terms of additional dollars.

If we want to break the budget for an additional $160 million, as was one proposal yesterday for education—another proposal was for $68 million for education; in my case, $11 billion for additional funding for special education—those are figures that somehow break whatever this budget and this fiscal discipline the majority caucus claims we have established within this body. As soon as the administration wants another $80 or $100 billion next fiscal year, no questions asked.
What the President wants, he will get.

I wish the President would add to his list of priorities in addition to funding the economic reconstruction of Iraq, for $10 billion, we are told in this proposal, and another $15 billion over the next few years for AIDS in Africa, a worthwhile cause, but I wish we would give the same priority to the special needs of the students of America, both those at the elementary and secondary levels and also, as Senator Kennedy pointed out, those in postsecondary education who find getting a Pell grant or getting a college work-study opportunity about as scarce as finding a weapon of mass destruction in Iraq.

As the American people look at the fiscal crisis afflicting this Government's budget, from the beginning of this fiscal year of a projected deficit of $150 billion to now a deficit projected to be in the neighborhood of $550 billion—that includes, by the way, the use of the Social Security trust fund surplus of $155 billion for this year so actually the operating account of the Federal budget is in deficit close to $700 billion this year. Next year, the budget deficit for fiscal year 2004 was expected to be $200 billion and now it is already up to $480 billion. That does not count the $80 billion or $100 billion for the next fiscal year to be added for the President's request. So we are looking at the start of the fiscal year of a deficit next year of some $580 billion, almost three times what was projected a year ago. That is in contrast, by the way, to a surplus that we enjoyed in each of the last 4 years under President Clinton.

There is one area, however, where there does not seem to be such a problem on the spending side. That is when it comes to pharmaceutical industry prices and profits. There was another interesting article today in the New York Times looking at the practice of the Veterans Administration in successfully lowering the price of prescription drugs for the VA and making it possible for millions of veterans to pay just $7 for up to a 30-day prescription. It is astonishing to see what the Senate and House bills now contain for prescription drug coverage contrasted with the VA copay of $7 per prescription. No
wonder thousands of veterans are signing up for this program every month, stretching those appropriated dollars.

I ask unanimous consent this New York Times article be printed in the RECORD at the conclusion of my remarks.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
(See exhibit No. 1)

Mr. DAYTON. For all its apparent success, lawmakers have disregarded the Veterans Administration model and others like
it that use the Government's immense power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices. In fact, under the Senate and House bills, under existing law, Congress would exempt the drug industry from the kind of cost controls in place for virtually every other major provider of Medicare services.

One of the founders of the current health maintenance organization concept who then recanted his support based on what they became, former Minnesotan Dr. Paul M. Elwood, said in the article:

The legislation pending in Congress does more to deform than to reform Medicare.

Drug companies [the article goes on] say they support prescription drug coverage under Medicare [since the taxpayer will be paying for more of these medicines]. But in the last few years, they have invested several hundred million dollars in campaign contributions, lobbying and advertising to head off price controls.

They were the largest contributor in the last campaign cycle for Federal campaigns, and of course those are not philanthropic contributions; they are political investments on which they expect and are receiving their desired return.

The article goes on to say:

The legislation "reflects a political judgment that the pharmaceutical industry" would block "price controls or any arrangement that used the concentrated purchasing power of the government to buy prescription drugs," said Paul B. Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, a private research institute.

Why would the pharmaceutical industry be able to block the Congress from enacting legislation that would lower prescription drug prices for the people of America? It begs the question, Whose interests are being represented, that an industry, the pharmaceutical industry, can block legislation right here on the Senate floor, right over there in the House of Representatives—can block legislation that would result in lower prescription drug prices for senior citizens and people of all ages across this country?

It goes on to say that the VA plan, by contrast, uses its buying power and uses it successfully to lower prices that VA pays for the medicines and that the veterans in turn pay. According to the National Academy of Sciences:

    .    .    . the VA's methods had achieved nearly $100 million in savings over the past 2 years.

    But Congress did not consider that approach; in fact, Congress did the opposite. Congress said you cannot use that approach. Medicare cannot get involved in price reductions. Medicare cannot use the vast purchasing power on behalf of all senior citizens and others under Medicare, which goes far beyond what the Veterans' Administration has in terms of numbers—cannot use that clout to negotiate or insist on lower pharmaceutical prices for seniors, for others on Medicare.
Why? Because that would cut into the profits of this already excessively profitable industry.

    Representative Michael Bilirakis, the Florida Republican who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce
Subcommittee on Health, said that if Medicare pooled its purchasing power, it would amount to "a form of price controls."

    "That's not America," Mr. Bilirakis said. "Many of my constituents would feel that price controls are a great thing. But ultimately some of us have to be responsible."

    Since when is it responsible for Congress to allow drug prices to go up higher and higher, beyond the reach of our fellow citizens? Since when is it responsible in America to let an industry, the drug industry, write a letter that 53 Senators sign, saying they would oppose any kind of reimportation such as that proposed by my colleague from the House of Representatives, GIL GUTKNECHT, Republican House Member from Minnesota. He was one of those who courageously and successfully led the drug reimportation victory in the House, one which I hope this body will enact and follow suit.

    But when a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist can write a letter that 53 Senators sign, stating exactly what the pharmaceutical industry wants said, that this is somehow dangerous to the safety and well-being and welfare of Americans, says a lot about who controls what happens in Washington.

    In fact, if the record be shown, the imports of foreign-manufactured drugs exceeded $14 billion last year. These were drugs that were made, manufactured outside of this country and imported. The only difference is they were imported by the drug companies at higher prices. If the consumers want to import those same drugs from Canada or somewhere else at lower prices, that is what is objectionable. But once again, it is the pharmaceutical industry and its profits that are given priority over people.

    So we have this very bizarre but, unfortunately for America, all too real juxtaposition of less spending for education. I see the distinguished Senator from West Virginia, who has been such a champion of funding for education and so many other causes benefiting the people of his State and across America. His amendment is one that we will consider. I wish and hope it will fare better than my amendment yesterday for special education. Given the votes on the other side of the aisle, I don't think that is promising.

    But when time after time we try to put more money into education and are defeated, yet we can, without even a blink of an eye, put $80 billion or $100 billion more into economic reconstruction or other efforts in Iraq paying, as I was told, in Iraq, paying 1.8 million Iraqi citizens not to work, not to do anything, just not to foment revolution, pay 1.8 million Iraqi citizens not to work and we are not willing to pay Americans who want to work overtime, or extend unemployment benefits for those who want to work and are seeking work, when we can run up deficits of humongous proportions, the biggest deficits in this Nation's history, three times more 12 months later than they were projected to be, without a blink of the eye on the other side of the aisle. But there is nothing to be said when drug companies want to raise prices and take more money out of the pocket of Americans.

    I would say it is time for this body to look very carefully at itself. It is time for the American people to look carefully at this body.

    I yield the floor.

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